Visualizing Better and Worse Without Implying Up and Down

Visualizing Better and Worse Without Implying Up and Down

Post by Nate » Wed, 25 Jul 2007 10:13:51


I'm struggling with a simple problem. I would like to make a dashboard
that shows with symbols whether a series of metrics are getting better
or worse. The most obvious answer, using up and down arrows or pluses
and minuses, doesn't work because it implies the direction of the
metric which is too confusing (some metrics are better when they get
bigger while others are better when they get lower). I am looking for
simple visual icons or symbols that will imply improvement without
suggesting increasing or decreasing.

For example: A group of automotive engineers working to improve fuel
efficiency and manufacturing defects might look at two metrics:
1. Miles per gallon (more is better)
2. Defects per 100 cars (fewer is better)

If they are both getting better then Miles per Gallon is going up
while Defects is going down. Arrows or pluses and minuses won't work
because the user will never know if it means the metric is going up or
if it means the metric is improving. After testing this co-workers it
appears that some instinctively read it one way and some read it the
other way so a better solution is needed.

I can't use colors because I'm already using them to show if the
metric is within an acceptable range. So, again, say Miles per Gallon
is 25 and the target is 40 then the metric would be Red to show it is
unacceptable but it might be accompanied by another symbol to show
that it is improving (maybe it was only 20 in last years version).

Does anyone have any suggestions on what symbols I could use to convey
the idea of "getting better" or "getting worse" without implying a
numerical increase or decrease?

Thanks in advance for any help.

-n
 
 
 

Visualizing Better and Worse Without Implying Up and Down

Post by Claudio Gr » Wed, 25 Jul 2007 21:14:41


A series of smileys from very happy to very sad representing the
better/worse numerical rating.

You are welcome.

I would be glad to hear as feedback if it works for you as expected.

Claudio

 
 
 

Visualizing Better and Worse Without Implying Up and Down

Post by Nate » Thu, 26 Jul 2007 01:28:45

> A series of smileys from very happy to very sad representing the


Thank you for your reply.

Yes, smileys are a good representation of positive and negative
states. The problem is that they are too similar to what is
represented by the colors.

I would like to display two pieces of information in each node of the
visualization.
1. Current status (Represented by the color Red or Green)
2. Historical Trend (Is the metric an improvement from last period or
not. I am looking for a visualization for this part.)

The problem with the smileys is that they convey the same information
as Green and Red. Green and Happy Face both = Good. Red and Sad Face
both = bad. What I'm looking for is something that conveys "Getting
Better" and "Getting Worse". Of course, the challenge, as I mentioned
before, is that it can't suggest a numerical increase or decrease.

That was a good suggestion though. Any other ideas?
 
 
 

Visualizing Better and Worse Without Implying Up and Down

Post by Claudio Gr » Thu, 26 Jul 2007 08:02:36


If I understand it right you need to convey at the same time/place the
bad/good judgment of a value and a tendency 'getting worse'/'getting
better', but not as an estimation of a trend, but considering only
comparison with the past.
Especially considering only comparison with the past appears to me to be
hard to visualize and I have no slightest idea how to convey it, so I
will just neglect this requirement replacing it with a common sense
understanding of a trend as an estimation of future development (i.e.
estimation of what is expected to come) like you do yourself mentioning
'getting worse'/'getting better' which terms don't convey in my
understanding the fact that only the past is considered (in case a node
represents an instant of time in the past and its future state is also
known).

If your current visualization utilizes the colors used in traffic lights
maybe you can use the common sense of traffic light logic known in case
when the lights are also equipped with a yellow lamp showing the coming
change and extend it according to your needs?

Another option popping up in my mind is usage of smileys on a sunny or
rainy background (happy smiley on a rainy background showing "ok, but
it's getting worse", happy smiley on sunny background showing "ok and
getting even better", etc.).

If all of the 'iconizing' won't fulfill the expectations as the audience
fails to interpret intuitively the visualization the right way, you have
still the option to provide the information just as a text ('getting
worse'/'getting better') being free to provide a graphical visualization
along with the text until the audience becomes 'conditioned' to it and
will interpret it always as intended.

Claudio
 
 
 

Visualizing Better and Worse Without Implying Up and Down

Post by Nate » Fri, 27 Jul 2007 00:46:39

n Jul 24, 4:02 pm, Claudio Grondi < XXXX@XXXXX.COM > wrote:

Thanks for your good thoughts Claudio. I like your idea of trying to
combine icons but the more I think about it the more I realize that I
need include some text with any graphic to ensure that there is no
confusion. It seems that there is no obvious, universally understood
visualization for "getting better" so I will have to clarify any
graphic with text. Thanks again for your help.

-n

 
 
 

Visualizing Better and Worse Without Implying Up and Down

Post by Claudio Gr » Fri, 27 Jul 2007 07:21:32

ate wrote:
You are welcome.
Thanks for the feedback and for asking this very interesting question.

Claudio
P.S. Citation from "Developing a Communication Strategy for a Research
Institute" document ( see
http://www.sei.cmu.edu/pub/documents/articles/pdf/comm_strat.pdf ):

"In retrospect, we have learned that [...] there was no way to avoid
confusion, ambiguity, and some contention on the way toward developing
consensus."

seems to support Nat's insight "It seems that there is no obvious,
universally understood visualization [...]".

In this context the hint provided at
http://www.marxists.org/archive/dunayevskaya/works/1967/black-power.htm :

"There is no way to avoid confusion except by being specific instead of
general."

appears to be the only helpful one available.